AP English Language & composition exam
Cracking the System: The Essays
Basic Principles of the Essay Section
THE FORMAT AND CONTENT OF THE ESSAY SECTION
The format of the AP English Language essay section underwent a significant change in May 2007, requiring a new essay—the synthesis essay. We’re including all of the information you’ll need for the post-2007 test.
The essay section of the exam will be made up of the following:
· One rhetorical analysis/expository essay
· One argumentative essay
· One synthesis essay
In Chapters 4 through 6, you will learn more about each kind of essay and how to go about writing the best possible essays in the time that’s allotted—a total of 2 hours, or 120 minutes (that does not include the 15-minute reading period). At the test site, you will receive all the paper you need (including scratch paper), and you will be instructed to write in pen. Remember to bring two or three blue or black ink pens with you.
As we mentioned, you’ll have two hours to complete the essay section. While the test administrator will give you some approximate guidelines for time management, you will not be told how much time to spend on each essay or when to move on to the next essay. Time management is important! Before you set foot in the test center, you must practice writing 40-minute essays. Of course, if your school has not provided you with practice, the tests at the end of this book will give you an opportunity to hone your skills. Do not fool yourself into believing, as so many other students (and teachers) have, that any type of writing will prepare you to write the AP English Language and Composition Exam. Writing a cogent, organized essay under rigid time constrictions is a learned skill; writing three consecutive essays under such conditions requires special training, stamina, and lots of practice. Fortunately for you, this book provides you with all of those.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ESSAY SECTION TO YOUR SCORE
The essay section of the AP English Language and Composition Exam counts for 55 percent of your total score, which means that it’s only slightly more important to your overall score than the multiple-choice section of the test. However, the essay section will feel like it’s more important because two-thirds of your time will go into producing the essays. Students tend to look at the essay section with a combination of awe, fear, and excitement. It’s one thing to send off some pencil marks on an answer sheet for mechanized correction; but it’s quite another to submit your writing to an anonymous person for judgment. The essay section is the only place in this exam where your personality—at least to a limited degree—will shine through to test graders. Don’t let this scare you: use it as an opportunity to show off what a great, cool writer you are.
Keep this in mind: Although the multiple-choice and essay sections are roughly equal in the ETS scoring process, there is a big difference between the way that you’ll approach each of these sections. Preparing for the essay section of the exam is more than just memorizing and applying techniques.
READY, SET, WRITE!
As we’ve discussed, you will write your AP essays under intense time pressure and without a preparatory lesson. That is not what you’re used to. In the past, editing and rewriting may have been an important part of your in-school essay writing. Perhaps your teachers have insisted that you turn in drafts of essays and required you to revise the drafts. If so, then you know that good writing takes patience and care; the “ready, set, write” attitude that test writers expect you to adopt when writing the AP essays runs opposite to the right way to approach most writing and is, hopefully, diametrically opposed to the way your teachers have trained you to write. Unfortunately, just because you have the ability to write a superlative essay when time is not a factor does not guarantee that you’ll be able to write a good one in 40 minutes. That’s why you’re reading this chapter.
The closest thing you may have experienced to writing the essays for the AP test is probably an in-class essay test, but even in that case there are significant differences. For example, in-class essays usually come after you’ve spent several classes on the subject at hand and know what your teacher expects you to have learned. Also, on in-class essay tests, the teacher wants to see what you know, not just how well you write. On the AP exam, you will be writing cold on a passage you read just two minutes prior for the first time. You’ll have no time to revise—only proofread—your work, and you’ll be graded at least as much on the form and writing as on the content. The AP essays call for a kind of speed writing; you have to come up with good ideas and get them down efficiently—on the very first try.
This isn’t the best way to write, but remember that everyone else is working under the same conditions. If you know how to make the most of these conditions, you will have a leg up on most other writers. It’s a little late in the game to learn how to write well, but it isn’t too late to learn how to write a high-scoring AP essay.
YOUR TEACHER KNOWS YOU
In school, you write essays for teachers who know you. They know what your writing looked like at the beginning of the year, they know that it has or has not improved, they know whether you do your homework assiduously, they know whether you contribute keen insights to class discussion, and they know that your real passion is for football, field hockey, dance, painting, physics, or reading. They may even know about special circumstances in your life that are affecting your work.
When you write your name on the first page of an essay, your teacher already knows much about your essay, and these are part of your teacher’s reading. Inevitably, that familiarity has some effect on the grades that you receive.
The AP reader doesn’t know you at all.
YOU KNOW YOUR TEACHER
Also, remember that you do not know anything about the reader of your AP essays. Who is he or she? In school, you know your teacher. You are accustomed to his or her demands; you know what that teacher wants to hear. You may know that he or she detests misspellings, loves it when you use humor, or gives extra credit for originality. Or, you may know that he or she is old and cantankerous and takes off more points for a misplaced book than for a misplaced modifier. Your AP essays will be written to a featureless face: Is it a kind face? Mean? Crazy? You will never know.
ALL ABOUT AP ESSAY SCORING
THE ZERO-TO-NINE SCALE
As we mentioned in Part I, each of your essays will be given a score between 0 and 9, with 0 being the worst score you can get, and 9 being the best. However, the scores are not spread out evenly over that range; the majority of essays receive a grade of 4 or 5. About 65 percent of the essays receive a score in the middle range: 4, 5, and 6. The high and low scores taper away pretty quickly. ETS does not tell its essay readers to bunch up the scores this way (in fact ETS often chastises the readers for this bulge in the middle), and they don’t manipulate the results to make them produce this bell curve. It works out this way because most of the essays are, indeed, average. In fact, reading essays often becomes drudgery because there are so many middle-of-the-road essays. With this in mind, your goal is to have your essays stand out from the rest. Your goal should be to at least get a 6 or 7, and it’s even realistic to expect at least one score of 8 if you practice enough before test day.
The essays are scored holistically. This means that the reader goes through your essay and gets an overall impression, which is translated into a single number (your score). There is no checklist of points; you won’t receive 2 points for style, 2 points for grammar, 1 point for vocabulary, and 1 point for a clear thesis statement, for example.
About a week before the actual grading sessions, ETS goes through several essays to get a sense of how students did—this is the beginning of the calibration process. Next, the ETS table leaders comb through the student writing looking for representative essays: the perfect 9 essay, the average 5 essay, and so on. The table leaders use these sample essays to train (calibrate) the readers. For nearly an entire day, the table leader and readers—working on a single essay prompt—read essays together and discuss the grades that they would assign. Once the readers can grade sample essays the way the table leader can, the group is ready to embark on the grading process. ETS scrupulously applies certain control processes; for example, over time, a reader will end up rereading and correcting certain essays chosen at random, and the two sets of scores will be compared for consistency. To check consistency from one reader to another, every reader (without knowing it) grades essays that another reader has already graded. However, despite all this checking and rechecking, there is no way around one key fact: The readers are individuals who will make subjective judgments.
THE READER WANTS AN ESSAY THAT IS EASY TO SCORE
Readers are high school, college, and university instructors who take a week out of their year to come to one site to grade essays. It’s your job not to contribute to the monotony, but rather to make sure your essay stands out from the hundreds of ho-hum essays that each reader will score.
You need to strive to write an essay that’s obviously better than average. The person who reads your test should feel confident about giving you at least a 6. Remember that three-quarters of the essays are average or worse, and readers are always hoping to come across something outstanding. Usually, the essays are generic and have no distinctive style to them, and often the essays barely address the prompt. If an essay starts out dull and poorly written, the reader may tune out and miss an excellent and well-written point later in the essay; likewise if an essay ends with a long, boring paragraph, the reader may forget some of the great points that were made earlier in the essay. But before we examine some basic tips for making it easy for the reader to give you a high score, let’s look at the kind of scoring guide that the readers use.
A TYPICAL SCORING GUIDE
As we discussed briefly, the readers receive a scoring guide for the essays that they will grade. The scoring guides for all of the AP essays are very similar. What follows is a combination of the various guides, without the details that are particular to any specific passage or prompt. As you look over the scoring guide, notice how little specific guidance ETS actually provides. The readers are actually given considerable leeway.
These are well-organized and well-written essays that clearly address the prompt. These essays include apt, specific examples to explain or argue a point. The argument is convincing, and the student successfully develops a position. While not flawless, these works demonstrate an understanding of the passage or concept, the techniques of composition, and the ability to control a wide range of elements. The writers of these essays express their ideas skillfully and clearly.
The content of these papers resembles that of the higher-scoring essays, but it is less precise and less aptly supported. These essays deal with elements such as rhetorical strategies, diction, imagery, and point of view, but they are less effective than the essays in the upper range. Essays that receive a score of 7 generally exhibit fewer mechanical errors and use slightly better specific examples than those that receive a score of 6.
These essays are superficial. Although not seriously off topic or completely lacking in merit, they miss the complexity of the prompt or of the passage and offer only a perfunctory analysis. The treatment of elements such as rhetorical strategies, diction, imagery, and point of view is overly generalized. The writing adequately conveys the writer’s thoughts, but the essays are limited, inconsistent, and uneven.
These essays attempt to address the prompt, but they reflect an incomplete understanding of the prompt or of the passage (or both); they do not address the prompt adequately. The discussion is oversimplified and misrepresented. The treatment of rhetorical elements is scanty or unconvincing, and there is little support for the writer’s statements. Typically, these essays reveal marked weaknesses in the writer’s ability to handle the mechanics of written English.
These essays contain the shortcomings found in the essays that are given a score of 3 and 4, but to a more pronounced degree. These essays either completely misunderstand the prompt or the passage (or both) or simply summarize the sources and prompt. Typically, these essays are incoherent, inchoate, or both. The writing evinces no control of written English, and the organization is poor.
This is a response that fails to address the question. There may be a reference only to the task at hand.
This indicates that the response is completely off topic or that a response has not been made. The essay, of course, receives no points.
ANALYSIS OF THE SCORING GUIDE
The scoring guide should tell you two important things:
· First, that the high-scoring essays are clear. They are not perfect. They aren’t moving and profound. They’re simply clear. Practically every point made in the 8 to 9 score description is just another way of saying clear. “Well-organized” means clearly organized. “Apt, specific examples” is another way of saying that the writer has used clear examples. Clarity is your goal.
· Second, notice the jump that happens at the 5 score. Notice how the whole tone of the guide changes. Suddenly the guide is not talking about the fine points of addressing the prompt; it is talking about the life-choking drabness of it all. You can almost hear the guide’s author muttering under his or her breath, “I wish we could give these essays an even lower score; they are so boring!” The 5 essay is just a trap; many 5 essays are written by good students, and most of these students probably think they wrote a pretty good essay. But in actuality they wrote only an adequate essay, a mechanical essay, a commonplace essay—a boring essay. After grading the fifty-fifth essay of the day, a reader writes down a 5 and picks up another essay from the pile, praying: “Please, not another drab, boring 5 essay!”
If you understand what you read and can write reasonably well, your goal should not be a 5. It should be at least a 6 or 7. You will almost certainly get better than even a 6 or 7 by following a few basic tips and familiarizing yourself with the types of essays you will be required to write.
HOW TO MAKE IT EASY FOR THE READER TO GIVE YOU A HIGH SCORE
About half the points you’re given for your essay will come from its content, but the reader has to be able to get to that content. There are a few vital things that you must do to let your excellence shine through with full impact. These basic tips pertain to only the superficial aspects of your writing, but a clear surface is the first step toward getting a high score.
Do everything that’s reasonably possible to make your essays readable. Your writing does not have to be pretty, but it needs to be legible. Think before you write! If your thoughts are clear before you write, you will express yourself more clearly in the essay; if your thoughts are a mess, your essay will be a mess too.
Some people will urge you to use cursive, rather than use print. This is bad advice, unless you ordinarily use cursive instead of printing when you write. Do not waste time by slowing down your writing or, worse, learning how to use cursive on the day of the test. Remember, unless you can also ace a test in penmanship, cursive is generally more difficult to read.
The general appearance of the essay is what’s most important. An occasional scratch-out is perfectly fine; a scratch-out every third word is a sign that you don’t know what you’re doing. Messy essay writing is like a guy showing up for a job interview with his shoes untied, his fly unzipped, his belt skipping a few loops, ketchup all over his shirt, and his hair unwashed. First impressions count, and it is easy to dismiss a mess. Think, organize, and let your writing flow.
These days, using a word processor makes perfect sense for most writing that you do. Students like the auto-correct, spell-check, and auto-almost-everything functions that are part of word-processing programs; teachers like having fewer mistakes to correct—and the increased legibility. However, your teacher may have tried to prepare you by having you write essays in class and written by hand. Do not use your computer when you’re writing the practice essays in this book. A significant part of your preparation for the exam should be to practice writing your essays by hand. Far too many students produce their only handwritten essays of the entire year on the day of the exam, and that’s a huge handicap.
INDENT YOUR PARAGRAPHS
Your reader’s first impressions are, indeed, crucial. The messy-looking character at the job interview has an uphill battle on his hands, if he hasn’t lost his chance already. The overall look of your essay is a first impression. It is the smile on your face as you walk in the door. Your essay should look neat, organized, and clear. Make your paragraphs obvious. Indent twice as far as you normally would.
When in doubt, make a new paragraph. Have you ever opened a book and seen nothing but very long paragraphs? Your next thought is probably, “Do I really have to read this?” That’s exactly what readers think when they see an essay without paragraphs. Make sure readers can see the paragraphs at first glance. Also, get in the habit of checking your essays for balance. All of the paragraphs should be approximately the same length, if possible.
Neat presentation, regular handwriting, and balanced paragraphs will put readers on your side before they even read a line.
WRITE PERFECTLY … FOR THE FIRST PARAGRAPH
If your essay looks neat, the reader will start feeling relaxed and optimistic. It’s up to you to write a brilliant beginning that will set the tone for the entire essay and sustain the reader’s positive attitude. Put a lot of care into writing the first paragraph, and don’t make any mistakes. If you’re unsure about the spelling of a word, don’t use it! Don’t worry so much about the rest of the essay; the readers expect a few mistakes. If you try to write the whole essay perfectly, you may write too slowly and run out of time, or worry too much and write dull, overwrought, and perhaps recondite paragraphs (look it up!). All it takes is a few good sentences at the start to convince the reader that you can write well when you have time to do so. As long as the rest of your essay is clear and well organized, the glow of a good beginning can carry over the entire essay.
WRITE WITH PIZZAZZ
Take some risks when you write your essays; you may fall flat every once in a while, but the reader will appreciate your effort and reward it. Bored students write boring essays. Be decisive and let yourself go. For example, you may write, “The candidate’s appearance was neat, and the boss gave him the job right away.” That may be true, but the sentence is mundane at best. A better sentence would be something like, “The candidate’s Armani suit and sleek silk tie captivated the boss, who slipped a contract across the table without comment or hesitation.” Or, “The creases on the candidate’s suit were as sharp as the pencil that the boss had tucked behind his ear, and, faster than a New York second, the wizened old man produced a contract and a pen.” Over the top? Who cares! Nobody expects you to write like Toni Morrison or Neil Postman. In fact, the reader expects you to write like someone who is suffering through a tedious, nerve-racking exercise—because that’s exactly how most of the other essays come across. If you write like someone who enjoys writing, the reader will enjoy reading your essay and reward you.
This does not mean that you should write tangled, complex sentences; in fact, you should try to avoid them. All you need to do is pay attention to diction (word choice). When you find yourself using a generic verb such as look, see, says, walk, go, take, or give, or a generic noun such asstreet, house, car, or man, ask yourself if there isn’t a more precise, more colorful word that you could use instead. Why write “house” when you’re referring to a mansion, shack, or cabin? Why write “car,” when you really mean jalopy, Porsche, or limousine? A little bit goes a long way: You could even make it appear that writing the essay was fun, which may very well be the case.
Obviously, there can be too much of a good thing, so don’t go overboard. Just try to let your writing flow naturally; from time to time, however, think about alternative diction.
Do not use contractions or shorthand symbols such as “&” or “w/” or “tho.” Get in the habit of using a relatively high level of discourse when you write essays for class. The AP reader will not necessarily take off points if you neglect this advice, but you will not impress anyone with e-mail or instant messenger–style writing.
ANSWER THE QUESTION
If you write a great essay that does not address the prompt, you will get a lousy score. All three essays are directed essays, and, in the next chapter, you will study the types of prompts that you will encounter on the exam. It is extraordinarily easy to figure out how to address each prompt as long as you remain cool, read the prompt slowly, and follow the advice we give you. For now, know that every prompt has telltale signs that allow you to “answer the question”—even if you do not fully understand it.
BUDGET YOUR TIME
As we mentioned, you can take as much or as little time as you like to write each of the three essays, as long as the total time does not exceed two hours. Each essay is worth the same number of points, however, so it’s essential that you allot about 40 minutes for each essay. A slightly better score on one essay will not make up for a bad score on another, and if you spend an hour on your first essay, you will not have enough time to write the other essays well.
With this in mind, when you approach the essays, you should definitely have a plan for budgeting your time. As we mentioned above, you have 2 hours of writing total or about 40 minutes for each essay. It is wise to use part of your 40 minutes for planning and jotting down an outline for the essay you’re about to write; usually, 3 to 5 minutes is sufficient for this. In the next few chapters, you learn specific steps you can take to effectively plan your answers to all three types of essay prompts (rhetorical analysis, argumentative, and synthesis). Basically, you should first examine the question and circle key words and phrases, jot down a few notes (more on this in a bit), and begin to write your essay. It may also be helpful to write your thesis statement (or at least a key phrase) at the top of the page to keep you on track. Also, try to save a few minutes at the end for proofreading. You’ll be surprised at the improvements you can make to your essay in the last minute or two, simply by correcting little mistakes in wording or grammar.
ORDERING THE SECTION
Just as with the reading passages in the multiple-choice section of the exam, you may write the essays in any order you like. However, you should probably not do this unless the first prompt makes you feel extremely uncomfortable. After all, you still have to write all three essays, and leaving the most difficult essay for the end (a common technique for many students), when you are tired and restless, isn’t a great idea. In any event, once you learn how to identify the various kinds of prompts, there will be no such thing as a difficult essay. For most students, it is better to save time and tackle the essays in the order in which they are presented.
FOR AND AGAINST THE FIVE-PARAGRAPH ESSAY
If you consider yourself a weak writer, the standard five-paragraph form of an essay may provide you with a safe and much-needed method for writing your essay. However, if you’re a good writer, it will restrict you and prevent you from creating an essay that’s as inspired as it may be otherwise.
Good and weak writers should take the “five” in “five-paragraph essay” with a grain of salt. Your essay should have a brief introduction and a brief conclusion that isn’t just a repetition of the introduction. Three body paragraphs often make sense, but you could also have only two, or four, depending on the prompt. Good writers should not restrict themselves to five paragraphs.
The nice thing about the five-paragraph essay is that it provides you with a framework for organizing your ideas and achieving your goal—a high-scoring essay. Using this format, you will do the following:
1. State a thesis (often, the prompt does this for you).
2. Identify two to four—preferably three—ideas that will allow you to prove your thesis.
3. Wrap up your essay with some final thoughts that emphasize your overall points.
For example, consider the following prompt, which is typical of some of the real essay prompts:
The statement “patience is a virtue” has become proverbial, but is it true? Is patience a virtue? Drawing from your readings or from your own experience, support, refute, or qualify the validity of the statement.
So, what are you going to do? Will you support, refute, or qualify?
First, simply think of whatever crosses your mind, pro or con.
· Patience helps you avoid making rash decisions, which are almost always bad. There was that time when you forgot your house key and, instead of waiting for your parents to come home, you broke a window to get into the house. The neighbors called the cops and … Patience is a virtue!
· Patience is a touchstone for love and friendship. Wow, there are lots of examples!
· Too much patience may prevent you from seizing an opportunity. Bill Gates lost patience with his university work and dropped out. I’ll bet he’s happy that he wasn’t patient. Patience is not a virtue!
At this point, you could forget about the third idea, but why? You are set up to qualify the adage, and your thesis practically writes itself: Patience is not an absolute virtue; while most often one does well to heed its voice, inevitably there are times when it is better to turn a deaf ear.
You have already written half of the introduction and much of the essay.
Do NOT waste time writing a formal outline! You need time to write and to write well, and your time is extremely limited. Solid organization is important, but quantity is also relatively important. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that a wonderfully organized one-page essay will do the trick; it won’t. Depending on the size of your handwriting, you should plan to fill two to three of the lined pages in the essay booklet. The test is not designed for the kind of carefully thought-out work that results from multiple drafts; this is a sprint, and you’d better get out of the starting blocks fast.
You should write down the main idea and a few notes (in your own code or shorthand) for each planned body paragraph. Although for purposes of clarity we used a few too many words in the bullet points above, they contain the basics of the outline. A more realistic version might be worded as below.
· Rash decisions; house key/cops
· Love/friendship; waiting for Jim; looking for lost notebook with Stephanie; time when Angela waited for me
· Bill Gates
Even this is a bit wordy. Write down only enough to remember what you want to include—for example, Bill Gates’s name is enough to remind you about dropping out of college and going on to found Microsoft.
Perhaps surprisingly, the introduction is usually the weakest part of an AP essay. Long introductions take up time that should instead be devoted to the essay, and they tend to leave the reader confused, bored, or both. You should write around three sentences in your introduction. The first will be your thesis statement, and the second and third will contain the enumeration of the main points that will substantiate your thesis. Basically, you will announce what you intend to explain or prove and give a road map to the rest of the essay. Here’s what you could do with the information that you just came up with.
Patience is not an absolute virtue; while most often one does well to heed its voice, inevitably there are times when it is better to turn a deaf ear. Patience impedes rash decisions, which are almost always bad; furthermore, it is the true touchstone for love and friendship. However, patience can also be an impediment to decisiveness, which is often an ingredient for greatness.
Is this a great introduction? No, but it isn’t bad either. The student has already proven that he or she is addressing the prompt and, specifically, chosen to qualify the adage. Also, the reader knows that the writer has a plan; in fact, all that’s lacking now is a good solution and presentation of examples drawn from his or her experience or readings.
A great writer could use the same material and write a more elegant introduction; a not-so-great writer could use the same material and lose it in a cloud of verbiage. If you are anything but an incredibly gifted writer, less is more when it comes to introductions.
THE BODY PARAGRAPHS
Present the body paragraphs of your essay in the order in which you presented the topics in the introduction. Begin each of the three body paragraphs with a sentence that is roughly equivalent to the appropriate phrase in the introduction; this will be your topic sentence. If possible, do not use identical wording. For example, you may begin your first body paragraph with the following:
More often than not, when it comes to making decisions, patience is definitely a virtue.
Then you may use the example of the lost house key, and maybe you’d add more examples as they come to you (perhaps you jotted these down in your outline before beginning the essay). It could be fun to write about the lost key, the “break-in,” the arrival of the police on the scene, and the ensuing arrival of your terrified parents. Good narration can earn you big points. What’s so hard about narrating a humorous anecdote? However, don’t get too carried away with your anecdotes; remember to stay on the topic.
End each paragraph with either a “clincher,” which is a sentence that drives home your point, or a transitional sentence, which is one that leads the reader naturally into the next paragraph.
(Clincher) One thing is for sure: Patience is a virtue that my parents expect me to practice in the future!
(Transition) Although the police were not thrilled with my rash decision, my parents bore the event with patience; surely they proved their love for me that day.
That transition sentence gets you ready to start the next paragraph (about how patience is a touchstone for love and friendship). You write two more body paragraphs, and you’re practically done!
Sometimes an essay will end suddenly, and the reader will be left staring at the blank lines, wondering if the student ran out of time, ran out of ideas, or ran out of the room. Possibly worse are the essays that end with a rambling, repetitive, boring rehashing of the introduction; this can erase some of the positive impressions earned in the body paragraphs.
Seldom will you have time to write a brilliant conclusion, so do the next best thing: Keep it short. If you can, invite the reader to reflect upon what you have written. As we mentioned in the planning stage, you may have a lot to say about what constitutes a virtue in the first place, so one possibility would be to end with something like the following:
If patience is a virtue, like thrift, modesty, or generosity, it is not an absolute guide. Perhaps the only absolute virtue is the gift of knowing when to obey a virtue—like patience.
That’s a lot of information to digest, but as you go through the next chapters you can always revisit this one to refresh your memory. For now, let’s go through the major points of this chapter one more time before you move on.
GENERAL ESSAY INFORMATION
· There are three essays; work on them as equally as possible.
· You have 2 hours total, or 40 minutes for each essay (not including the 15-minute
· Each essay is scored by a reader who grades only that particular type of essay.
· Each essay is given a score from 0 to 9.
· The essays are scored “holistically.” There is no checklist of available points.
· The reader wants to read good essays that are easy to score.
· When in doubt, the reader will grade your essay in the middle range of scores.
· Clear essays earn high scores, generic and boring essays earn mid-range scores, and bad essays earn low scores.
· Do everything in your power to make the essay appear neat.
· Write confidently in the manner in which you feel most comfortable; there should be a regular flow to your writing.
· Make your paragraph indentations easy to spot.
· Your first paragraph should be grammatically perfect. Your reader will quickly make a judgment about your ability to write. Once the reader has decided that you can write clearly, he or she will cut you some slack later on.
· Vary your diction and sentence structure. A little extra effort when choosing verbs and nouns will pay great dividends.
· Do not use contractions or shorthand (“e.g.” for “for example”, “&” for “and”).
· Address the prompt; write what they want to hear, not what you want to say.
· If you are perplexed by the first prompt, do the questions in whatever order you feel comfortable with; however, reordering the prompts takes time. If at all possible, do the essays in the order in which they are presented.
· If you do not have a good organizational track record, use the “five-paragraph” form. It is always better to have too much organization than too little.
· Do not waste time crafting an outline; jot down just enough to capture the gist of a plan of attack for each body paragraph.
Now that you have a general idea of how the essay section is structured and scored, let’s move on to a few more specifics about the different types of essays you’ll see. The next three chapters outline how you should go about answering the three different kinds of prompts: the analytical, argumentative, and synthesis questions. To see real examples of each of these questions that have appeared on previous AP English Language and Composition Exams, visit